Arnold Ridley, the only child of William and Rosa Ridley, was born in Bath on 7th January 1896. The family owned a boot shop. His parents were nonconformists and his mother was a Sunday school teacher.
William Ridley was an outstanding athlete who, in his spare time, taught boxing, fencing and gymnastics. Arnold inherited his father's love of sports, although he claimed he also inherited his mother's total lack of ability to play them.
At Bristol University he developed an interest in acting and in 1913 he appeared in a play called Prunella at the Theatre Royal in Bristol. The following year he left university and found work as a schoolmaster.
On the outbreak of the First World War Ridley attempted to join the British Army but was rejected on medical grounds. At the time the recruiting offices were being inundated with young men and the army could afford to reject people like Ridley who had problems with a toe he had broken playing rugby.
Ridley continued as a schoolteacher in Bristol until volunteering again in 8th December 1915. By this time the army had lost so men as a result of the fighting on the Western Front, they accepted Ridley. He later recalled: "I thought I was doing my duty for my country. I didn't know I was going to be treated like a convict. Did it make better soldiers of the callow youths we were then? I doubt it."
After basic training with the Somerset Light Infantry, Ridley arrived in Arras in March 1916. Ridley had removed his marksman's badge because he did not want to be made a sniper. He later commented: "I didn't go to France to murder people."
Ridley was only on the front-line for two days when he was hit in the back by shrapnel. He was sent to the base hospital at Etaples. After he recovered he rejoined his regiment in the trenches. Soon afterwards he was shot in the thigh and he was sent back to England.
In July 1916, Ridley returned to the Western Front to take part in the Somme Offensive. Ridley went into No Man's Land on 18th August. Fifteen of the men in his group were killed or seriously injured soon after they left the trenches when a preliminary barrage dropped on them instead of the German machine-gun posts. During the attempt to reach Delville Wood, Ridley's battalion suffered nearly 50% casualties. Ridley later pointed out: "It wasn't a question of if I get killed, it was merely a question of when I get killed."
On 15th September 1916, Ridley and his regiment attempted to break the main German defensive line at Flers. For the first time in history the infantry were accompanied by the recently invented tank. "We in the ranks had never heard of tanks. We were told that there was some sort of secret weapon and then we saw this thing go up the right hand corner of Delville Wood. I saw this strange and cumbersome machine emerge from the shattered shrubbery and proceed slowly down the slope towards Flers."
Despite suffering heavy casualties Lance Corporal Ridley and the Somerset Light Infantry were ordered to head for the village of Gueudecourt. "The trenches were full of water and I can remember getting out of the trench and lying on the parapet with the bullets flying around because sleep was such a necessity and death only meant sleep."
Ridley reached a trench that was occupied by the German Army. "I went round one of the traverses, as far as I remember, and somebody hit me on the head with a rifle butt. I was wearing a tin hat, fortunately, but it didn't do me much good. A chap came at me with a bayonet, aiming for a very critical part naturally and I managed to push it down, I got a bayonet wound in the groin. After that I was still very dizzy, from this blow on the head presumably. I remember wrestling with another German and the next thing I saw, it appeared to me that my left hand had gone. After that, I was unconscious."
Other members of the Somerset Light Infantry saved him from certain death. However, the German's bayonet had cut deeply into his left hand, cutting the tendons to his fingers. He was also bleeding badly from the groin wound and a suffered a fractured skull. When he regained consciousness the following morning he recalled: "I always remember my disappointment the next morning when I found that my hand was still on because I thought, well, if I lost my hand I'm all right, I shall live, they can't send me out without a hand again. I was 20 then, it's not altogether a right thought for a young man to hope that he's been maimed for life."
The offensive was a terrible disaster. The Somerset Light Infantry lost 17 officers and 383 other ranks, around two-thirds of the men who took part in the fighting that day. Ridley was eventually rescued by the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and was taken to a Canadian Hospital close to the front-line where he had the first of seven operations on his hand.
Ridley was sent back to England and spent some time at Woodcote Park Military Hospital before appearing before the British Army Travelling Medical Board. The doctor suggested that the wound to his hand might have been self-inflicted. Ripley replied: "Yes, sir. My battalion is famous for self-inflicted wounds and just to make sure I cracked my skull with a rifle butt as well and ran a bayonet into my groin."
Ridley was sent to Ireland. He later claimed "I had the feeling that they were trying to kill us off to save our pensions." He was finally discharged from the British Army on 27th August 1917. Ripley later recalled in his unpublished memoirs: "My pension was thirteen (shillings) and nine (pence) a week. But for my father and mother, I don't know what I should have done. I was in considerable pain because there was a nerve injury in my hand."
Later that year he was given a white feather by a woman in the street. He took it without comment. When he was asked why a returning soldier, would be treated in such a way, he answered: "I wasn't wearing my soldier's discharge badge. I didn't want to advertise the fact that I was a wounded soldier and I used to carry it in my pocket."
After the war Ridley found work as a teacher. However, in 1919 he joined the Repertory Theatre in Birmingham. Over the next three years he appeared in over forty productions. Ridley also wrote his own plays, including the highly successful The Ghost Train (1923) and The Wrecker (1924).
Ridley was also involved in writing the scripts or stories for several films including The Wrecker (1929), Third Time Lucky (1930), Keepers of Youth (1931), The Ghost Train (1931), Blind Justice (1934), Seven Sinners (1936) and Royal Eagle (1936).
On the outbreak of the Second World War Ridley joined the British Expeditionary Force. He served as an intelligence officer and was sent to France in 1939. He later admitted that: "Within hours of setting foot on the quay at Cherbourg in September 1939, I was suffering from acute shell shock again. It is quite possible that outwardly I showed little, if any, of it. It took the form of mental suffering that at best could be described as an inverted nightmare." Ridley was evacuated from Dunkirk in May 1940.
Now aged 44, Ridley was demobilised from the army once he arrived back in England. However, he did join the Local Defence Volunteers, an organization that later became the Home Guard. In 1944 he escaped serious injury when his cottage in Caterham was hit by a VI Flying Bomb.
After the war Ridley he appeared on the stage, radio and television. This included the part of Doughy Hood in The Archers. Her also featured in Crossroads and Coronation Street. However, his most famous role was as Charles Godfrey in Dad's Army (1968-1977).